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10 tips for finding buyers on the European market for home decoration and home textiles

Takes about 8 minutes to read

Do you want to export home decoration products or home textiles to Europe? Finding interested European buyers is not going to be easy. Here we offer nine tips that will help you in your search.

1. Do market research to find out which segment offers you the best opportunities

Before you try to do business on the European market, you have to find out how the European market works and which markets or segments are best suited for your offer. This means you have to invest time and effort in doing market research. Look at different countries and their characteristics; look at the pricing, quality, style, volumes etc. of different segments to find out where your offer will fit best. Realize that marketing your products randomly will lead to failure: the European market is sophisticated and segmented and you have to match your offer to a corresponding segment.

There is a lot of useful market information on the Internet. For example, browsing distributor websites is a good way of increasing your knowledge of the market, trends, different forms of communication and presentation, pricing, design inspiration, consumer needs, market requirements et cetera. After doing this for some time, your feel for the export market will undoubtedly have increased.

2. Know your potential buyers before getting into contact with them

In addition to knowing the European market and its different segments and channels, you must also get to know your buyers. Learn how they think, what their needs and wishes are, how best to communicate with them etc. You can do this research online as well as through visiting trade fairs and having talks with buyers. Ask lots of questions.

Tip:

  • Learn more on doing business on the European home decoration and home textiles market.

3. Attend trade fairs, first as a visitor, then as an exhibitor

Importers consider trade fairs to be their main showroom for introducing new collections to customers. They participate in most of the well-known trade fairs. This makes trade fairs a great place to meet potential buyers.

You can attend trade fairs either as a visitor or as an exhibitor. It is advisable to go as a visitor first, as exhibiting is usually expensive. Advantages of going as a visitor first are that you can get a feel for the event, spend time talking with buyers and exhibitors without the stress of running your own stand, find out which halls attract most traffic (or the most worthwhile traffic) etc. Find out whether the fair suits your offer and attracts the buyers you are looking for. If you decide to exhibit, make an effort to build a new collection around this important promotional event; invite new and existing buyers to your booth at the fair; and set clear marketing objectives for the event. Prepare well and when the fair is over, take time to ensure effective follow-up – as most of your trade fair business will develop after the fair, not during the event.

These are some of the most important trade fairs:

Tip:

4. Search trade fair databases to find potential buyers

All well-known trade fairs have free, online exhibitors databases. A quick way of finding new contacts is to search these databases. Some trade fair organizers offer special online tools for this purpose.

When you have identified potential buyers and added them to your own contacts database, consider carefully how best to contact them. You can send your trade fair invitation to their general address, assuming that if your invitation is good and relevant enough, it will get read by the relevant buyer. Another option is to try phoning; your chances of getting through to an actual purchaser are not high, but your likelihood of success will increase if you have studied the importer and can offer a really relevant product. Spamming buyers is never a good idea.

Tips:

5. Search the web shops of online retailers

Larger retailers, retail chains and department stores all have web shops as a part of their sales strategy. In their web shops, they usually display all products on offer, often in full detail. In many cases, suppliers or brands will be mentioned, and those could be your target.

To find prospects, try the following:

  • Select a retailer in your segment. If you choose a segment is higher or lower than yours, the supplier you end up with may not match your offer. To learn more about this, check CBI’s study on market channels and segments.
  • Select your product group or category.
  • Find out whether any suppliers are mentioned, e.g. in the product title or specifications. To learn more about your competitors, check CBI’s study on competition in this market.
  • Go to the supplier’s website. Check out whether this company would be interested in your offer; is an importer and not a manufacturer like yourself (in which case the company would be a competitor); fits your position in the market.
  • If there is a potential fit, add them to your database.
  • As a rule of thumb, keep the following in mind:
  • The lower end of the market generally needs good makers. Your capability as a manufacturer comes top most. Those with the best operational excellence will win the contract.
  • In mid-market, styles are set (e.g. colonial, cottage, vintage) and those who offer the best concepts within that style, will find favour.
  • In mid-high and premium markets, importers are looking for identity: special techniques, materials, stories, sustainable offers, innovativeness, supreme functionality etc. This is where it pays off to be a specialist.

6. Consider hiring agents for trade representation

Hiring an agent can be effective, but before you do, make sure you consider the pros and cons. The services of selling agents can range from plain sales work – e.g. booking orders with distributors by making house calls and visiting or exhibiting at fairs – to services that may include stock risk. The extent of the services agents offer will be reflected in the fees they charge. Hiring them is generally costly, but since their money is in it as well as yours, they tend to yield good results. They will often be willing to open these up to you in exchange for a commission, which can start from 5% of your FOB (free on board) price.

Tips:

  • Agents are generally not associated or listed, so you will have to ask around in your sector, among designers, sector experts, NGOs.
  • Never start working with agents intuitively, without underlying figures. Agents work on a commission basis. If you are unable to calculate the gains that can be realistically expected, don't venture into such a commitment. Typically, gains depend on the additional volume of trade an agent forecasts, the level of his commission, and the cash flow aspect of the arrangement with your agent.
  • Ask for legal advice before you agree on a contract with an agent.
  • Enquire after the agent’s geographical region and the market segments he caters to, to avoid channel conflicts with your existing customers and to make sure he understands and works in your target market.
  • Find out how committed an agent is to your business. Are you one of many businesses he represents? Does he work full-time? Is he well-connected, energetic, keen to represent you?
  • Enquire how your agent works. Is he open about his contacts in the market or not? It might help you to know about his contacts, so you can develop products for them and increase your general market knowledge.
  • As with direct customers, be extremely cautious about granting your agents exclusivity for a segment or region. Giving away a section of your market needs commitment from your agent in the form of guaranteed volumes of business over an agreed period of time.

7. Don’t buy standard buyer databases

Individuals or institutions, including some trade fairs, offer buyer databases for sale. These may contain hundreds, sometimes thousands of addresses. This might sounds interesting, but in many cases high percentages of these addresses are irrelevant, obsolete or outdated.

Also, sending unsolicited, standardized emails to thousands of unknown contacts is not only an offence, but also very ineffective.

8. Use matchmaking services

In matchmaking, persons or organizations will link you to relevant distributors. Unlike agents, matchmakers do not engage in a trade relationship with you. They usually work on a fee or commission basis, actively providing you with distributor contacts, or contacting distributers on your behalf.

A typical example of a matchmaker is Germany’s CDH. However, many matchmaking intermediaries are not associated and you will have to actively seek them out. You can do this through online research or by contacting local NGOs or sector experts.

  • Most major fairs include matchmaking facilities, sometimes affiliated to the fair itself. In those cases, the trade fair’s website will specifically mention these services. Check the trade fair websites under Tip 3 for more information.
  • Matchmaking services will only help you if you provide the matchmaker with very precise information on your offer, your target segments and your positioning and production capacity. Lack of clarity and details often leads to failure.
  • Make a clear deal with matchmakers, outlining mutual responsibilities and deliverables. Pay sufficient attention to the legal/contractual side of the deal – get legal advice or sectoral advice if you need to.
  • Match-making usually starts on a one-off basis. However, if it works for you, you may engage in a longer-term relationship. Consider a trial period to find out whether there is a good match.

9. Make sure buyers can find you

It is important that buyers looking for new offers can find you as well.

Tips:

  • Make sure you have a good quality website, which is optimized for search engines.
  • Use social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) to increase your visibility and to give prospects more insight into your business, your offer, your customers etc.
  • Also investigate the services of online marketing platforms such as, Alibaba or Itopua (an online market place for African handmade products). Have a look at the Google Search Engine Optimization Starters Guide (PDF) for tips to improve your search engines ranking.